Anti-Dis-Establishment-Arian-Ism + AntiDisInterMediaTion

In this post, I plan to give you a small insight into some of the marketing / branding ideas I developed for this blog. One of the BIG IDEA moments behind „remediary“ is simply that antidisintermediation is nothing other than remediation (and as that is in a rather oblique way the goal / rationailty behind the my argumentation for rational media in the sense of algorithmic, functional, operational,… – new media, media that „works“, etc.) for business goals without needing a lot of busy bodies to do it, without even needing any algorithms, software programs and such – using nothing more than the technology of natural language (a sort of gift from nature / God / the Gods / evolution / whatever).

In my original thinking behind what I used to refer to as „the Wisdom of the Language“ (which, now that I think about it, I may one of these days resurrect under the heading of „rational media“), my thinking about intermediation (and similar intermediary roles) was focused primarily on bringing together business people in a spirit of collaboration. I continue to feel my thinking behind this was valid – but I naively and mistakenly overlooked the simple fact that the vast majority of business people are by and large illiterate (remember that my notion of literacy includes what many people refer to as „media literacy“, „online literacy“, „digital literacy“, etc.).

The „Wisdom of the Language“ ideas are now more than 10 years old. Yet they still remain inaccessible to illiterate people – indeed, to the vast majority of the population. In the intervening decade I have been quite frustrated to come to this realization. Now, reflecting on the past decade, I also realize that I have made many connections to very literate people. Perhaps, I think, maybe I should try to develop these relationships more. Perhaps the people „in the media“ do have a meaningful role to play after all. Perhaps the ability to create and formulate expressions representing ideas is not a gift given from the heavens after all. Perhaps we need a special class of literate people to interpret and translate ideas that ordinary business people may have, but seem to remain unable to express, to communicate, to understand or convey.

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The Rationality of Algorithms: Facebook Algorithm, Google Algorithms or No Algorithm at All?

If you could choose any of the following three options, which one would you pick?

  1. Facebook Algorithm
  2. Google Algorithms
  3. No Algorithm whatsoever

Granted: You probably have more choices than that – I’m just trying to keep it simple (stupid 😉 ).

Let’s review the steps involved.

First, you publish something.

Second, one of the algorithmic options above is applied in order to choose whether someone gets to see your post or not.

Finally, people either see or don’t see your content.

Which one would you choose?

If you’re anything like me, you would probably choose #3 („No Algorithm“). What this means is that there would be no filter between writers and readers… – or rather: No external filters. No middleman. No chaperones, no censors, no manipulation, no mind-control.

I am quite capable of thinking for myself, thank you very much. I can process large amounts of data quite well. I have (and apply) my own machines and algorithms (i.e., applications aka software, etc.) to help me choose what to read (or ignore). I don’t always use the same algorithm, because I don’t always want the same thing. What I want is mostly independent of where my current location is or what I happened to buy yesterday. My friends have different brains than I do, so they are free to choose different content at different times than I want here and now.

As a writer, I definitely don’t want some big media company to censor what I write.

In the rational media model, content producers and content consumers select (or „self-select“) each other via rational terms used to agree on the topics of interaction, the scope of communication, the boundaries of what is deemed relevant (versus irrelevant). Such terms might be short phrases (such as „summer vacation“ or „things to do“), or single keywords (for example „flights“ or „activities“). Some strings might be on the verge of natural language terms (e.g. „carwash“ or „facebook“). The point at which a term is deemed no longer rational is when it is closely linked to the term being „protected“ by so-called intellectual property law (such as trademark law). At that point, the term is no longer informative as an element of language – it then merely becomes an identifier (i.e., a proper name for a specific entity or phenomenon).

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The Spectre of Populism

There is a spectre haunting the Web: That spectre is populism.

Let me backtrack a moment. This piece is a part of an ongoing series of posts about „rational media“ – a concept that is still not completely hard and fast. I have a hunch that the notion of „trust“ is going to play a central role… and trust itself is also an extremely complex issue. In many developed societies, trust is at least in part based on socially sanctioned institutions (cf. e.g. „The Social Construction of Reality“) – for example: public education, institutions for higher education, academia, etc. Such institutions permeate all of society – be it a traffic sign at the side of a road, or a crucifix as a central focal element on the alter in a church, or even the shoes people buy and walk around with on a daily basis.

The Web has significantly affected the role many such institutions play in our daily lives. For example: one single web site (i.e. the information resources available at a web location) may be more trusted today than an encyclopedia produced by thousands of writers ever were – whether centuries ago, decades ago, or even still just a few years past.

Similarly, another web site may very well be trusted by a majority of the population to answer any and all questions whatsoever – whether of encyclopedic nature or not. Perhaps such a web site might use algorithms – basically formulas – to arrive at a score for the „information value“ of a particular web page (the HTML encoded at one sub-location of a particular web site). A large part of this formula might involve a kind of „voting“ performed anonymously – each vote might be no more than a scratch mark presumed to indicate a sign of approval (an „approval rating“) given from disparate, unknown sources. Perhaps a company might develop more advanced methods in order to help guage whether the vote is reliable or whether it is suspect (for example: one such method is commonly referred to as a „nofollow tag“ – a marker indicating that the vote should not be trusted).

What many such algorithms have in common is that on a very basic level, they usually rely quite heavily on some sort of voting mechanism. This means they are fundamentally oriented towards populism – the most popular opinion is usually viewed as the most valid point of view. This approach is very much at odds with logic, the scientific method and other methods that have traditionally (for several centuries, at least) be used in academic institutions and similar „research“ settings. At their core, such populist algorithms are not „computational“ – since they rely not on any kind of technological solution to questions, but rather scan and tally up the views of a large number of human (and/or perhaps robotic) „users“. While such populist approaches are heralded as technologically advanced, they are actually – on a fundamental level – very simplistic. While I might employ such methods to decide which color of sugar-coated chocolate to eat, I doubt very much that I, personally, would rely on such methods to make more important – for example: „medical“ – decisions (such as whether or not to undergo surgery). I, personally, would not rely on such populist methods much more than I would rely on chance. As an example of the kind of errors that might arise from employing such populist methods, consider the rather simple and straightforward case that some of the people voting could in fact be color-blind.

Yet that is just the beginning. Many more problems lurk under the surface, beyond the grasp of merely superficial thinkers. Take, for example, the so-called „bandwagon effect“ – namely, that many people are prone to fall into a sort of „follow the leader“ kind of „groupthink“. Similarly, it is quite plausible that such bandwagon effects could even influence not only people’s answers, but even also the kinds of questions they feel comfortable asking (see also my previous post). On a more advanced level, complex systems may be also be influenced by the elements they comprise. For example: While originally citation indexes were designed with the assumption that such citation data ought to be reliable, over the years it was demonstrated that such citations are indeed very prone to be corrupted by a wide variety of corruption errors and that citation analysis is indeed not at all a reliable method. While citation data may have been somewhat reliable originally, it became clear that eventually citation fraud corrupted the system.

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The Unanswered Questions

There’s a piece by Charles Ives, a famous American composer, named „The Unanswered Question“. I have long enjoyed this piece, and in particular also its title. In my opinion, there are many unanswered questions.

One reason why there are so many unanswered questions is that lots of questions are never actually expressed. It is a great irony that quite a few so-called „free“ societies remain unwilling or unable to allow people to voice their own opinions.

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The Domain Name is the Medium

If you are “old school“, you might type in thenewyorktimes.com to visit “The New York Times”. It wouldn’t matter much, because that domain name also belongs to the company that publishes “The New York Times” — and so does newyorktimes.com, nyt.com, and many others, too. All of these strings are probably “protected” by trademarks the company “owns” (see also what I said about ownership in my previous post). If you have acquired a little more literacy skills than utter newbies, then you might know that the domain name the company actually uses (to publish their “newspaper articles”) is nytimes.com (note that the company uses different domain names to publish corporate / company information). Companies often register many trademarks and domain names — The New York Times Company apparently has also registered “mytimes.com” (these are often referred to as “typos”, but one might wonder whether a newspaper publisher in Myanmar (ps: oops — Malaysia — Myanmar is .MM 😉 ) might think The New York Times Company might be infringing on their trademark). There are many legal battles about such strings every day, and there is still very much and widespread confusion regarding the topic.

Generally people have a deep gut feeling that companies should not “own” the natural language people speak “naturally“, but tell that to the “owners” of soap.com — which they acquired for somewhat more than a song (and by the way, the same owners have also acquired song — “dot song“). ICANN’s “new generic top level domain” (ngtld) rollout has been very controversial, and there will probably continue to be very much and widespread confusion regarding domain names for many years to come.

Few people are aware of the ownership relationships in the media they use on a daily basis. My guess is that significantly less than 1% are aware that when they visit nytimes.com “Alphabet” — the company that used to be known as “Google” — is informed which computer has connected to which article, and that information is probably used to inform Google’s algorithms about which ads to show. In that sense, Google sort of “owns” the New York Times, even though this ownership relationship is nowhere transparent on any document or piece of paper.

Most Fortune 500 corporations have huge portfolios of domain names. Google is itself very much in the domain name business. When people say that domain names don’t work, they apparently overlook the simple fact that the Internet’s most successful companies realize that they do work. Extremely well. So well that they will bet the farm on them. They understand that the domain name is the medium.

Try to imagine an Internet where that were not the case. Oh, wait — actually that appears to be quite easy: Just look at your so-called “smartphone”. I bet they called it smart not because smart people use it, but rather because smart companies make them to spy on dummies! 😉

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